🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Leopard Tortoise - Torti

Camera : Kodak EasyShare C195

This is Torti, my Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis), who has been with me since she was no larger than my hand. Destined for the pot or possibly muti (a term for traditional medicine in Southern Africa), I confiscated her from the aggressor and brought her home. My intention was to release here into a safe environment, but these are becoming less and less due to the area becoming heavily built-up over the last decade.

These tortoises face many dangers like illegal trade in wildlife, body parts being used in traditional medicines, veld fires, road kills and many more. So, right or wrong, she has stayed with me over the past seven years in the hope that some day I will find a perfect area in which to release her.

In the meantime, she comes when I call her every morning for breakfast, taking her time and making me wait while she unhurriedly approaches and then digging in with gusto! She also knows when it's feeding time - if Lydia or I are a bit late (the normal time is about 9.15am), you'll find her impatiently walking up and down the fence, as if to say, "What's the hold-up?!"

Walking the fence while waiting for breakfast 

Torti taking her time making her way towards the food 

They are large tortoises (largest species in South Africa) that can weigh over 30kg and measure up to 60cm in length. Males have longer tails and a deep plastron (Bottom of shell) concavity as opposed to the females which have short tails and a flat plastron. Colouration is varied and the African Leopard Tortoise typically lives 80 to 100 years.

Torti is now approximately 8 years old and almost too heavy to pick up 

The Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) is a large and attractively marked tortoise found in the savannas of eastern and southern Africa, from Sudan to the southern Cape. It is the only member of the genus Stigmochelys, but in the past it was commonly placed in Geochelone instead. This chelonian is a grazing species of tortoise that favors semi-arid, thorny to grassland habitats, although some leopard tortoises have been found in rainier areas. In both very hot and very cold weather they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or anteater holes. Leopard tortoises do not dig other than to make nests in which to lay eggs. Not surprisingly, given its propensity for grassland habitats, it grazes extensively upon mixed grasses. It also favors succulents and thistles, and (in captivity) the fruit and pads of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) (cactus are New World plants not native to Africa).

Leopard tortoises are increasingly being bred in captivity. This is a positive development, as it should lead to a gradual reduction in demand for animals caught in the wild. In most cases, wild-caught leopard tortoises are not only loaded with ticks, mites and internal parasites, but they are usually very stressed and dehydrated and may not voluntarily eat.

You can read more on caring for a Leopard Tortoise in my post here

This is Torti's enclosure where she spends her days either exercising by walking the whole area or sunbathing. Tortoises are wanderers and in the wild occupy a home range of from 1 to 3 square kilometers. I used to put a bowl with water for her, but she prefers to drink out of the pond. I used to be worried (and still am!) about her falling into the water, but Leopard tortoises can swim well and will cross rivers or lakes. Unlike most land tortoises, which tend to sink when they fall into water, the leopard tortoise can float and actually likes to swim and can stay underwater for up to 10 minutes. And I've ensured that there are lots of easy flat and shallow points of exit for her just in case.

Torti's enclosure 

I often let her out into the garden, but have to stand guard and herd her like a sheep as she heads towards my prize Echeverias! When out in the garden, she takes a keen interest in her surrounds, investigating every nook and cranny. She also loves spending some time under the peach tree eating any fallen peaches.

There's no great benefit to owning a tortoise or having it as a pet. It can't cuddle, it can't chirp back when you talk to it and doesn't take kindly to being carried around - and be prepared for some hard work. Feeding a tortoise and keeping it's enclosure clean is a daily exercise and when you go on holiday, be assured you know someone who is prepared to take on these tasks.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Make your yard more hospitable to wildlife

There are a number of ways in which you can make your yard more hospitable to wildlife, and many of them require very little effort or maintenance:

1. Build a brush pile. Start with some larger logs, then pile on smaller branches. (This, however, can also attract rats and other unwanteds).

2. Make or buy a toad house. Don't throw away your chipped terracotta flower pots. Place a chipped flower pot upside-down (with a hole large enough for a toad to enter), or prop the edge of the flowerpot up on a stone.

3. Place dog fur, cat fur, bunny fur, feathers and even your own hair clippings outside for birds to use in their nests. You can place the hair/fur in a net bag, or lay it out on bushes.

4. Lay off the pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. Look into natural and organic remedies for lawn and garden problems.

5. Install a birdbath. Change the water every two to three days in warm weather, and in cold months, if the water has frozen, pour over a bit of hot water until it is melted. Don't warm up the water too much, however; birds might be tempted to bathe and then end up freezing to death!

6. Put up a bat house to encourage the presence of these shy animals. Bats can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour. Plus they’re just really cute.

7. Plant native species that produce yummy edibles for wildlife. Consult a local garden center for plants native to your area.

8. Reduce the size of your lawn. Grass lawns do very little for wildlife; try ground-covers or wildflowers instead.

9. Keep dead trees around. Resist the urge to remove them for aesthetic reasons—they make good animal habitats and bird perches!

10. Grow native flowering plants to encourage butterflies, and place flat basking stones in sunny locations for them to warm their wings on.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Farm talk - The Crowned Plovers have hatched!

Crowned plovers - Vanellus coronatus

After the big to-do of the Crowned Plover stopping my husband's 5-ton truck from destroying her nest, I kept on checking on their nest, from a distance, and Saturday morning at 8.30am I was rewarded by seeing two of the three eggs hatch, hopefully the third will follow soon. Luckily it was warm and sunny and the parents were keeping a close eye on the proceedings.

Trying to take these pics of them was an ordeal in itself, as I once again was dive-bombed mercilessly and one of them even almost got tangled up in my hair! 

They are so well camouflaged, I almost missed them 

Breeding occurs in the spring months from July to October. The nest is in a shallow depression in the soil with a lining of vegetation and other debris. There are normally 3 eggs, sometimes 2 or 4. Incubation requires 28 to 32 days and is done by both sexes. Immediately after hatching, the young leave the nest while both parents look after them. Egg-laying is timed to precede the rainy season and most incubating is done by the female. The male assists only on hot days, when he either incubates or shades the nest. 

The one on the right is still wet, with some egg shell sticking to its feathers 

Pretending no-one can see it!

 Eyes tightly shut...

Bare-part colours of males brighten in the breeding season. Different types of display flights lure the female to the defended territory. A female accepting the male and territory will follow the male during his display flight. Mates may be retained for life. 

 Still wet from hatching out the egg

Although generally outnumbered by Blacksmith Lapwings, they are the most widespread and locally the most numerous lapwing species in their area of distribution. Their numbers have increased in the latter part of the 20th-century after benefiting from a range of human activities. They live up to 20 years. 

After the photographic session, I left them in peace and 3 o'clock that afternoon I returned to find that the two hatchlings had moved about 3 meters away from the nest, hiding close to a clump of grass.

Their colours are absolutely gorgeous and perfectly suited to their surrounds. They both kept their eyes tightly shut, barely breathing as they tried to blend into the surrounds.

Those typical long legs are already apparent!

The third egg seems to have been abandoned. I returned early evening but couldn't find the babies anywhere. The parents were about 100meters further down the plot and I presumed the babies were there with them. I am totally thrilled to have witnessed this happening and now just hope and pray the next door neighbour's dogs keep away from my property!


Friday, 18 October 2013

Farm talk - The wrath of a Crowned Plover

... or, the love of a mother....
Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.

Yesterday my husband had to pull the truck out of the workshop to deliver a tractor to a customer and as he got a couple of meters from the workshop gate, he was confronted by a very angry Crowned Plover, standing in front of the approaching truck, wings spread and loudly proclaiming her intent on not moving.

Perplexed, my husband got out of the truck to look what was going on, upon which both parents flew at him in attack mode, swooping and screaming loudly, trying to get him to move. Suspecting that there might be some babies, he called me to see if I could see what all the pa-lava was about.

As soon as I arrived, I was dive-bombed in the same manner and as I carefully walked around slowly, looking out for any babies, the one parent would flap around in the grass, feigning injury and, as I approached, move on a bit, trying to lure me away from the spot. This is a strategy they use, pretending to be injured and easy prey, so getting a predator to follow them away from the nest. So I knew there definitely was something around there.

Both parents kept up this behaviour, alternating between dive-bombing us, flapping in the grass and screaming at the top of their voices.

 and this is what all the raucous was about!

Eventually, taking my cue from where they were at their most frantic, I found the nest - three beautiful speckled eggs so well camouflaged that it took me ten minutes to find it! The eggs were within meters of the truck's front wheels, my husband has stopped just in time! If it wasn't for this brave little bird stopping a 5-ton truck, the nest might have been destroyed.

After taking some photographs and enduring a lot more abuse from them, my husband reversed the truck and did a wide berth around the nest. Now that we know where they are, we avoid that area and hopefully will be able to see the birth of these little wonders.

The Crowned Plover (Vanellus coronatus) occurs across much of sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa it is common in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, northern and south-western South Africa and southern Mozambique. It generally prefers dry, open grassland, sparse woodland, open areas in Karoo scrub and man-made habitats, such as open fields, short pastures, airports, golf courses and roadsides.

They build their nests totally in the open and only after the grass has been cut on our smallholding. No trees, long grass or any other sort of cover for hundreds of meters around them. It always amazes me that they face the elements this way, with no cover whatsoever, but understandably it gives them a wide range of sight to see any predators approaching.

They mainly eats termites (which make up approximately 80-90% of its diet), using the typical foraging technique of plovers, running, stopping then searching for prey on the ground. It often forages in groups, sometimes alongside Black-winged lapwings, moving in a regularly spaced line.

(See the eggs hatch here.)


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Imperceptibly they arrived

My swallows are back, 10 Oct 2013 - stealthily and imperceptibly they arrived; was I unconscious? 

Greater-striped Swallow sitting on my washing-line

They were very late this year, usually they arrive the beginning of September, maybe that's why I missed them. But we also had no rain in September, with our first shower happening on the 8th October. This leads me to believe they time their arrival with the rains... 

Wonder if they'll be using last year's half-completed nest? 


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Crawling among the Cosmos

Just outside our front gate, on both sides of the road, the Cosmos flowers were thick and bountiful after all the beautiful rain last summer. Every year I pick bunches for my vases and place them all over the house. Stray seeds also get dispersed by birds and the wind and I inevitably end up with some Cosmos flowers in my garden every summer. 

Crawling among the cosmos next to the side of the road to try and get a good shot of these annual flowers was quite an experience. I almost fell in a rabbit hole, got black jacks all over my pants, walked straight through a huge Orb Web Spider’s web before I realised it and even disturbed a family of Partridges, who scared the daylights out of me as they all raucously took to the air! 

Nature puts up this grand show every year from November, well into March, and tourists travel from the Cape Province to Mpumalanga to witness this spectacular event here in South Africa.  Hopefully I will have another beautiful Cosmos experience this year!

Cosmos are originally native to scrub and meadow areas in Mexico (where the bulk of the species occur), and occur in the southern United States (Arizona, Florida), Central America, South America south to Paraguay and South Africa. 


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Kiep and her red bandana

Kiep, wearing her red bandana around her neck, ready to deliver this morning's breakfast. Her nest is in my studio, on one of my art tables. She grew up here in my studio since I rescued her as a day-old two and a half years ago after being abandoned by her mother. She now spends her days outside with all the other chickens, but daily, without fail, she returns to her nest to lay her egg and then spending some time sitting on my lap or in the bottom drawer of my desk, chatting to me. 


Thursday, 3 October 2013

Thank goodness it's Thursday

(Equally thankful for Monday or Friday or Sunday...) 

I am just a bird. Not even a rare one, just a robin on a rock looking up at that big sky. 

And yet, I can fly. 


This week I have been saying blessings and thank you's to the ordinary everydays. Nothing spectacular, yet everything is amazing. The sun is shining and I have friends in my garden. Watching me. Following me. And allowing me to photograph them.

Life is good.


Grey-headed Bush Shrike - a new visitor!


Ground-scraper Thrush


The Masked Weaver was hard at work and not taking any notice of me! And just look at the acrobatics!



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